No joke: Alan Olifson moved from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh about two years ago so he would have more opportunities to perform comedy.
As it turned out, he was right.
Olifson, who hosts The Moth’s monthly StorySLAM at the 300-seat Rex Theater on the South Side, combines his wry stand-up comedy with a knack for creating a sense of intimacy for the diverse audience gathered to share true life stories inspired by a theme.
February’s theme was “Love Hurts,” and Olifson began last Tuesday’s show by telling a hilarious story about being a sandak at his nephew’s bris, and burying the foreskin in the backyard. The standing-room-only crowd loved it.
In fact, Olifson, 42, peppered the entire evening with references to being Jewish.
“At Moth, I mention being Jewish at each show,” he told the Chronicle. “And after every show, someone comes up to me and invites me to Shabbat dinner.”
That is one of the differences between being a Jewish comic in Pittsburgh as opposed to L.A.
“Being a stand-up is a very Jewish profession,” he said. “In L.A., there are lots of other Jewish people doing stand-up. In Pittsburgh, I’m more like a ‘starter Jew’ for people.”
Olifson, who is a software developer by day, has been doing stand-up since he was a high-schooler in southern California. Since then, he has performed in clubs across the country, been a featured “New Face” at the Hollywood Improv, studied with the The Second City in Chicago, and has won awards for his weekly humor column.
He also founded and ran the L.A. storytelling series set to music, WordPlay, which he would like to bring to Pittsburgh. He has applied to the Sprout Fund for a grant to help make that happen.
The availability of artistic grants is one of the perks of living the creative life in Pittsburgh, he said.
“Professionally, Pittsburgh is a smaller city; you can make more of a mark,” Olifson said. “I’m finding a lot of artistic opportunities in Pittsburgh. There are lots of grants, and they are put to good use.”
Family was another draw to Pittsburgh for Olifson, his wife and two young children. Olifson’s wife was born and raised here, and a lot of her family still lives in the area.
“We were always coming back to Pittsburgh to visit,” he said. “I had fantasies that if we moved here, I could actually do more comedy, which has played out.”
Last spring, Olifson performed a one-man show at the Bricolage Theater on Liberty Avenue. The show, called “Manchild: My Life without Adult Supervision,” chronicled the comedian’s “ongoing battle with adulthood” through a series of essays accompanied by a live DJ score.
The show begins with Olifson’s tale of being arrested in college for stealing a bike.
“I borrowed the bike,” he said. “The police thought I was stealing it, especially because I was running away. But the steering wheel wasn’t attached, which is why I didn’t get very far.”
The police probably would have let him go, he said, if he and his friends hadn’t started singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
“I spent a whole day at the Santa Barbara County Jail,” he said, acknowledging there are probably worse facilities at which to be confined. “Lesson learned.”
“Manchild” then transitions to “how that moron became a father and a husband, and how I’m trying to work it all out,” he said.
As a budding grown-up, he seems to be particularly challenged by home improvement stores. At last Tuesday night’s show he riffed on Lowe’s, and how he was amazed that someone like him could just go in and buy a chain saw.
He is also befuddled by Home Depot.
“When I go into Home Depot, I feel as if my mom has dragged me into the underwear department at Macy’s, and I am surrounded by things I don’t understand,” he said.
Clearly, he said, he is still working on being “grown-up.”
Hopefully, for us, that will take awhile.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)